Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes or vapors as they are more commonly known, are nicotine-delivery devices that sometimes look like cigarettes in shape, size and general appearance. They have become very popular in the past few years and are often thought to be safer than conventional cigarettes.
Some recent studies indicate that e-cigarettes may not be as safe as some think. In 2009, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tested the ingredients in a small sample of cartridges from the two leading brands of e-cigarettes. They found that the samples contained detectable levels of known cancer-causing agents and other toxic chemicals. The tests also found that there was no consistency in the amount of nicotine between different products with the same label. Some of the e-cigarette products labeled “no nicotine” still contained low levels of nicotine. Because these products are not regulated, there is real concern that users do not always know what levels of nicotine they are consuming or what other chemicals they may be exposing themselves to.
There is also cause for concern related to the secondhand e-cigarette aerosol that comes from e-cigarettes (incorrectly called water vapor by the industry), because it has been found to contain nicotine, ultrafine particles and low levels of toxins that are known to cause cancer. People exposed to e-cigarette aerosol can absorb nicotine (measured as cotinine), with one study showing levels comparable to passive smokers. FDA scientists have also found detectable levels of cancer-causing tobacco-specific nitrosamines in e-cigarette aerosol.
Do not be fooled into thinking the aerosol from e-cigarettes is safe just because it doesn’t smell like conventional cigarette smoke.
While more studies are currently being conducted on the safety, efficacy, and integrity of e-cigarettes, most public health professionals agree it is too soon to call e-cigarettes a safe alternative to traditional cigarettes. Additionally, the dramatic increase of e-cigarette usage by youth and the ever present marketing of e-cigarettes to all populations have created concern with public health leaders.
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